Minis was glooming again. We’d be in the city today and he was scared. I’m scared. They have to take us to the Marble Palace and we’re all scared.
The First Patrol were nice. They talked to me in Yeoli and it was like big chunks of rock were breaking out of the walls in my head. Right now Ailadas… um… Aimondas… was asking patrol intelligent questions about the city.
“The city sereniteers have everything well in hand, ser,” said Ses. “Not to worry. We’ll get you signed off at the Marble Palace… you might get your niece a quick peek at the public galleries if you like, and it’s early enough. There’s a lot of new things.”
“Ah. Ahem. Quite. Did you hear, my dear? You might be able to start your stay in the city with a tour of galleries that are unequalled.”
“Oh, Uncle, how thrilling!” Kyriala looked up from the book she had on her saddlebow. Since she read with us last night, she’d been going through Ili’s picture books like she was a starving girl and they were chocolate buns. My shadow daddy would say it was like a silverling run and she’s yanking in the nets. Oh. Hmmm. The Yeolis along the road had all said I had a coast accent, but most of them were inland Yeolis and didn’t know more exactly, some guessing Selina or other cities on the seacoast. “I’ll have to write a letter to mama and tell her all about it!” Kyriala was saying.
“My brother will be scandalized but will, of course, read it to her. My dear, will the excitement not be too much for you?” Ailadas was playing the solicitous uncle beautifully and Ky fluttered her eyelashes.
“Uncle Aimondas, I will do my best not to faint!” The two patrolmen rolled their eyes at each other a little. Only a little.
I dropped back to Minis. “Heya, Minakas, didja hear what the sereniteers said?”
He closed his book and blinked at me through his spectacles. The one lens was still not plain glass so they were giving him a headache and put a crease between his eyebrows. “Nah, Rao, what were that?”
“We’re going all the way to the Marble Palace because that’s where the garrison is.”
“Ah, yeha, Rao. They said a couple days ago I think. I never thought I’d get tah see it. And now, my lil professional god, I will.”
My heart was hammering in my chest but surely no one… surely there would be no one who would recognize any of us? “—so we shall be seeing mostly the administrative wing?” Ailadas was asking.
“Yes ser. Just past the White Gate.”
“Splendid! Ahem. Magnificent! Minakas, remember to take notes on the architecture!”
More and more buildings had been built along the road until now they were almost as close as in the city. The crowds were almost as thick as when we were dragged out of the city but this time it wasn’t a terrified mob of refugees.
A beer wagon, then another, and a third. Carts full of vegetables. Single people with handcarts and back-packs. Horses with panniers. Donkey carts and a herd of beef cattle heading to the slaughter yards downwind. A couple of early fishmongers having relayed from the coast. The fish was so fresh it didn’t smell at all. The cows were stinkier. Even this early in the day and on a perfectly paved road there was dust everywhere.
We got moved to one side as a full caravan, probably of early wheat, passed us by. I didn’t count the wagons as that was seen as bad luck. There was a post with a triple thickness of posters glued one over the other on it, the top one about a vote to be held in several moons.
A good spearcast away there was a watering trough by the side of the road and a speaker stood on the edge of it, clinging one handed to the curlicues of stone decorating its top, his other hand waving another of the horrible signs. I was just as glad the noise was enough that I couldn’t hear what he was bellowing.
“Hey, look you can see the morning couriers going. The Niah ones!” There were what looked like enormous soaring birds rising and falling over the city circling up or down and I realized they weren’t birds. They were people. I’d seen them before but just didn’t think they might be the wing-things. Minis nearly rode into me, staring up at them.
The sides of the road were rising gradually as the road plunged into the entrance area of the Main Gate. All the banners were up though they alternated the Yeoli Blue and Green with the Arkan Eagle. A whistle blast and a wheeled courier picked up speed in front of us, coming out, the whistle sound rising and falling as he passed us. He wasn’t the usual courier on skates… I had to stare. He was in a wheeled chair, with arms as thick as most people’s thighs and a couple of big dogs towed his chair along, happy tongues lolling out of their open mouths. I put my hands up as his whistle spiked into my ears.
I’d gotten used to quiet. This was… I folded in on myself and struggled to get used to it. I lived in the noise before. I could again. Everybody closed their books against the dirt kicked up and we moved into the underground part of the Main Gate.
That was pretty much the same but this time I wasn’t frightened of it. After the Tunnel this little hole in the ground was about as scary as a hole pawed by Ili’s donkey. The outer gates were being scraped down by people sitting on swing-chairs and scaffolding, pulling off long flakes of sun-faded paint. An eyeblink after we went in past the outer Gate, just long enough for eyes to begin to adjust and ears to take in the wind-roaring echos of all that noise crammed down into the hole, we came back out into the blazing sun halfway up the walls, with Arko – the new Arko, the rebuilt Arko -- all laid out before us.
We all gasped and Ili yelled ‘Look! Look!” waving his bear at the city from Minis’s lap. At first glance it was just as it had been then, but then things began to jump out.
The biggest, the first thing, was the Eagle. The carving that had been gilded, glittering, spreading its wings over the shining white towers of the city, was bare.